Koskei rules out suspension of maize importation amid claims farmers hoarding produce

Harvesting season: Workers pack maize after drying at Simatwet in Trans Nzoia County on October 24, 2022

Harvesting season: Workers pack maize after drying at Simatwet in Trans Nzoia County on October 24, 2022. 

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

The government has set tough conditions for farmers to either release hoarded grains or compete with 10 million bags of imported maize to be released to market to ease artificial shortages and lower the cost of flour.

Whereas Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria has issued 72 hours’ notice for the farmers to release the maize, Head of Public Service Felix Koskei has ruled out calls to suspend importation of the produce noting that the country was staring at serious shortage of the stable.

Mr Kuria, who has faced backlash from MPs drawn from President William Ruto’s party and the opposition, said he was awaiting Cabinet approval for the importation even as farmers from maize growing regions maintain that there are sufficient stocks to meet the local demand.

Mr Kuria, however, said he was open to talks with farmers and millers on the maize import stalemate that has triggered claims that the Kenya Kwanza administration was renegading on its pledge of revamping agriculture sector into a profitable investment.

But in twist of events, Mr Koskei ruled out deferral of importation of 10 million bags of maize and cautioned leaders against politicizing the process for selfish gains.

He said the import was meant to cushion famine stricken families against acute food shortages and urged farmers to take advantage of attractive prices of over Sh5,000 per 90-kilogram bag to release hoarded produce to the market.

“The country is faced with shortage of 10 million bags of maize and the government will not suspend the importation process as demanded by some leaders at the expense of millions of Kenyans faced with starvation,” said Mr Koskei in Kapsabet, Nandi County on Saturday.

Speaking on the same day in Kitale, Mr Kuria told farmers to release the grains.

“You have 72 hours to release the maize in your stores before the Cabinet meets on Tuesday to approve the decision to import maize. This is because we do not want anyone to die of hunger,” said Mr Kuria.

But maize farmers in North Rift region, the country’s food basket maintained that they have sufficient stocks to meet the local demand and termed the planed importation a scheme to destabilize the local market and subject them to losses.

“Revamping agriculture formed key pledges of Kenya Kwanza administration but there are all indications that it is backtracking on the promise by importing maize when there are sufficient stocks following bumper harvest,” said Jackson Kosgei from Moiben, Uasin Gishu County.

A sport check by Nation.Africa indicated maize farmers in Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet and Lugari are only harvesting the crop now even as the government is pressurizing them to release the produce to the market.

“It is too early for the government to determine accurate shortage of the stable considering that harvesting process is ongoing,” said Julius Too from Sergoit, Uasin Gishu County.

The Ministry of Agriculture forecasts this season’s maize harvest to be 20 percent less than the projected 40 million 90 kgs-bags. It estimated the harvest to cap at 32 million bags.

According to annual agriculture reports, Rift Valley has continued to experience low yield with the production declining from 27 million bag to 21 million bags this season.

Uasin Gishu County is projected to harvest about 4.5 million bags of maize this season out of which more than 2.5 million bags will be released to the market.

“Uasin Gishu and Trans-Nzoia counties are to harvest over 10 million bags of maize and plans by the government to import 10 million bags of duty free maize will destabilize local market and subject farmers to losses,” said Kipkorir Menjo, Kenya Farmers’ Association (KFA) director.

Interviewed farmers petitioned the government to suspend any importation plans noting that they have sufficient stocks to feed the nation until April next year.

“We still have huge stock of the previous season yield and harvesting of the current crop is ongoing,” said James Songok, from Kerita, Uasin Gishu County.

He has a stock of over 200 bags of the 2021 season while he has harvested over 5,000 bags this season that is ready for the market.

Kenya’s maize production has fluctuated in the past eight years, with its highest production being in 2018 when it produced 44.6 million bags and the lowest being in 2017 when country only produced 35.4 million bags of the staple food.

The country churned out 40.7 million bags in 2013, 39 million in 2014, 42.5 million in 2015, 37.8 million in 2016, and 39.8 million in 2019, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.